The History of New York State
Book IX, Chapter II

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam




Herkimer County was erected from Montgomery County February 16, 1791, and, as first founded, embraced an enormous territory. The boundaries as given were: "All the territory bounded north by Lake Ontario, the River St. Lawrence and the north bounds of the State, easterly by the counties of Clinton, Washington and Saratoga; south by the counties of Montgomery, Otsego, and Tioga." Many counties and sub-division of these counties have been taken, but even now it has an area of 1,370 square miles, with such a distribution that it extends from the Adirondacks to the Mohawk.

It has a north and south dimension of 83 miles, making it the longest county is New York. Hamilton thrusts into the side of this line a corner which divides the area roughly into halves, which correspond somewhat to the differences in the two sections of the county topographically. North of this corner the surface is mountainous, wild, much of it being denuded forest land, rocky, sandy or thin, ill suited to regular agriculture uses. There still some of the timber left, and parts of this area are much frequented by summer campers. Lake are numerous; hills are picturesque and healthful.

The section south of the angle is that which is the seat of most of the industries and population. The Mohawk divides this southern part, and the nearer one get to the river the more one is in a fertile farming county where dairying interests are manifest everywhere. The character of the land and the training of the early settlers made of this section a cheese district. As early as 1785 this industry was started and in 1800 small quantities of this article were being exported. By 1826 the business had spread to nearby counties, and in 1830 a cheese trade with England had been established.

The specialty of the county was due not only to the fitness of the land for such purposes, but more because of the fitness of the people who inhabited it. The first permanent settlers of Herkimer were Germans from the Lower Palatine, who, escaping from their own country, were left destitute in England. They were shipped from that country to settle on the "Hudson's River," that they might be useful in the production of naval stores and act as a frontier barrier against the French. They became dissatisfied with the Hudson conditions and emigrated to Herkimer region. three of these companies of Palatinates arrived in New York before the end of 1722. Some from all three had come into the county before 1725. Governor Burnet had already,. July 9, 1722, secured some of the lands from the Indians to grant to these immigrants. Probably the first settlements of the new-comers were made during the years 1823-24, near the present towns of German Flats and Herkimer. The Revolution scattered the most of the colonists. The "Burnetsfield patent," a document often referred to in the land deeds of today, was dated April 30, 1725, and names 92 of the palatines to whom land was granted. There were 46 lots on each side of the Mohawk being of uniform shape and size.

The granting of lands to poverty stricken immigrants seems very liberal, but does not appear in so good a light when it is realized that the settlers were set along among the Indian, and were to be the buffer against the French. In 1757 they had to bear the shock of the French and Indian War. In November of that year a band of Canadians and their Indian allies swept down on the little fort at Oswego, captured it, and immediately hurried down the Black and Mohawk rivers and massacred the inhabitants of the section of the north side of the Mohawk near the present village of Herkimer. A full account of this and later wards are to be found in other chapters of this work. To one interested in the events of the early Revolution, particularly those which took place in this section, the account of battles along the Mohawk, especially those in which Genera Herkimer defeated the forces of St. Leger's on the Oriskany near Utica on August 17, 1775, preventing his juncture with Burgoyne, will bear reading. This engagement was one of the severest of the Revolution, numbers being considered.

With the coming of peace, came also a resettlement of the Herkimer district. In which many new Englanders had a share, and the establishment of industries and means of transportation. The thin line of travel wormed its way through the Mohawk Valley as the easiest route westward. The first State road through Herkimer was from Albany to Utica, constructed in 1794. The Mohawk was naturally the first means of handling heavy fright, although the rapids at Little Falls interfered badly. This difficulty was overcome by the building of a canal around the rapids in 1797. Some of the masonry of these old locks is still in a fair state of preservation. In 1820 the Erie Canal was complete, superseding the Mohawk, and in the late thirties the Utica and Schenectady Railroad increased the transportation facilities.

Villages were being founded everywhere, great sections of Herkimer's original territory were being taken to form other counties, and the county had subdivided its area into towns. Only by separate consideration of the divisions can wee get a grasp of the history of the whole.

The oldest village in the county is Herkimer, incorporated April 6, 1807, with a population of 300. The early settlement of this place by the Palatines has already been mentioned. By 1872 it had residents to the number of 2,000; in 1920, 10,433. The early asheries, mills and other works which grew up around the West Canada Creek water power were few. The village was in no sense a manufacturing center. The first great move in this direction was in 1833, when a company, capitalized at $100,000, incorporated to construct a dam across the creek, engage in manufacturing and sell power. The amount of water power developed was not that expected, but it was the means of being many concerns to Herkimer, and putting it to the fore in industry. There are now some thirty-five factories busily engaged with their varied products. Office and library furniture, hardware specialties, boxes and articles of apparel are the principal things made. But the village owes much of its prosperity to tits location in the center of ha rich dairy district, for which it is the market place.

Previous to 1798 the county buildings were at Whitestown, but the erection of Oneida County in that year took that village, and Herkimer was chosen for the site of a plain two story wooden building which was to house the county offices. Burned on January 25, 1834, it was replaced by a brick structure which served for forty years. In 1873 this was in turn replaced by a building planned to take care of the future growth of the county business.

Near the southeastern part of the county, where the Mohawk drops forty-five feet in less than half a mile, and the ancient Laurentian rocks lie exposed, is the unique community known as Little Falls, the "Rock City." The lands on which the south side is built as apart of the patent granted in 1752 to John Joost Herckheimer, and one other. The north side belonged to Petrie and other Palatines. While the situation is picturesquely beautiful, and the fall of the river gave easily utilized power, it was rather a rugged bit of country on which to build. A little settlement had grown up around a grist mill which was wantonly destroyed by the Tories and Indians in June, 1782. In 1811 a village charter was granted to the few who lived on its two streets, but the place amounted to little as late as 1827 when a new charter was secured. Not until 1840 was there substantial growth and this met its setbacks in floods of 1842 and 1850, and the breaking of the Civil War.

The last 75 years have produced some changes. The little village cling to the rocks is the metropolis of the county. With a population of more than 14,00, ample power and transportation, it is a manufacturing city of note. Dairy machinery, knit goods, felt and felt articles, clothes, casting, paper, leathers, these are but some of the many products of the industrial district.

Between Utica and Little Falls are Mohawk, Frankfort, Ilion and Herkimer.

Mohawk village, incorporated April 16, 1844, has about 3,000 residents. It was one of the original Palatine settlements. The manufacture of knitted underwear if the main industry.

Frankfort, incorporated May 4, 1863, had a gristmill previous to the Evolution, and by 1807 had only seven houses.

The building of the Erie Canal did not lead to the large growth expected, but the growth made is typical of the Mohawk Valley towns, substantial. Its population today (1920) is 4.198. In 1844 the fist of the large factories was located and for years turned out matches by the million. Now the industrial interest centers in the making of farm implements, condensed milk, castings, road machinery, and steel stamping. West Frankfort is the seat of several vegetable canneries.

Ilion practically joins Frankfort on the east. Settled by the Germans in 1725, incorporated 1852, it amounted to little until the completion of the Erie Canal a hundred years after Ilion's founding. And the history of he next hundred would be meagre were it not for the erection of a little one -story building in 1826. But this building was one built by Epihalet Remington in which to make guns, and was the beginning of the great Remington Arms and Ammunition Company. Fifty years ago this concern started to make typewriters, which industry became so large as to require a separate organization for its management. Ilion is now a single industry town; it makes quantities of office furniture, both wood and steel, besides minor articles. The population of the city is about 10,000.

Dolgeville is out of the valley proper in the foothills of the Adirondacks. Settled 1876 by Alfred Dolge for whom it was named, with splendid water power, and full supply of timber, it is a large producer of piano parts. Felt shoes and slippers are others of the main products. The population is nearly 3,500.

Fulton Chain, in the same district, is one of the strictly lumber town.

McKeever, one of the more recently developed towns, deals in lumber and wood pulp.

Middleville, in the town of Fairfield, has its tannery, a survival of a business begun in 1814, but specializes in felts for pianos.

Newport, incorporated march 20,1857, while known for its nit goods, is dependent on the dairies which surround it. There are two large condensaries located here.

West Winfield, in the town of Winfield, is as it has been since 1820, engaged in the making of leathers and leather articles. There are nineteen towns in Herkimer County, a list of which follows with population and other items of note.

Columbia, formed from Warren, 1812, is one of the moderately hilly dairy districts which are the back bone of Herkimer County. It has a population of 911 with South Columbia as the main hamlet.

Danube, with a population of 746, is a good grazing section,. It will always be remembered as the ancient home of the famous Mohawk chief, King Hendrick, whose Indian castle was located east of Nowadaga Creek. Formed from Minden town in 1817.

Fairfield, situated near the center of the county, was set off from Norway in 1796. Its principal village has already been mentioned. Population, 1.337.

Frankfort, formed from German Flats in 1796, is a dairy and fruit section, Population, 6,493.

German Flats, originally formed as the fifth of the Tyron County district in 1772, was recognized as a town in 1788. It lies in a broad fertile valley which rises to some 300 feet on the borders. The present population, including villages already mentioned, is 14, 089, making it the most populous of the towns.

Herkimer, as organized in 1788, embraced territory now covered by eight towns and much of the northern part of the State outside the county. Its present population, after giving so much of its area, is 11,982.

Litchfield, formed from German Flats I n1796, is one of the upland district so much used for dairying. Population, 747.

Manheim, was formed from Palatine, Montgomery County, in 1797. Population, 3,886.

Newport, in the western part of Herkimer, was set off from Herkimer, Fairfield, Norway and Schuyler in 1806. Water power has encouraged manufactures. Population, 1,750.

Norway, organized 1792, was formerly heavily wooded and now is well adapted to grazing. Population, 488.

Ohio, erected from Norway in 1823, was given the name of West Brunswick, which it retained until 1836. Population, 583.

Russia, is one of the largest towns in the county in area. Poland village is its mercantile center. Population, 1,433.

Salisbury, has an area of 68,000 acres, the most of which is good arable land, Population, 1,418.

Schuyler, formed from Herkimer, 1792, has the usual variety of fertile river valley land spreading out to the hills. Population, 1,007.

Stark, in the eastern part of the county, was organized in 1828 from Danube. Otsquago Creek flowing through it, has been the seat of mills for a century a and a quarter. Cheese has been its main product for many years. Population, 811.

Warren, the most southerly of the towns, was taken from German Flats in 1796. It is upland lying on the water shed between the Mohawk and the Susquehanna. It ships quantities of milk to the larger cities of the east. Population, 959.

Wilmurt, was the largest town in the State, extending originally fifty miles north and south and sixteen miles east and west. It was erected from Russia and Ohio, and is mountainous, with many lakes, including four of the Fulton chain. It was abolished in 1919 by having parts of it annexed to Webb and Ohio.

Webb has a population of 1,357.

Winfield, in the southwest corner of the county, contained, until erected, 1816, parts of the towns of Richfield and Plainfield, Otsego County, and Litchfield, Herkimer County. The thriving village, West Winfield, is the dairy and mercantile center of the section. Population, 1,312.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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